Ugly, invasive fish spreads into Green River

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FLAMING GORGE -- An invasive species of fish now lurks in Utah waters and threatens to wipe out native species in prize-fishing waters. State fishery managers need help to keep it from taking over.

Without insulting the burbot too badly, here's the consensus: It's ugly, it's a predator and it does not belong in Utah waterways.

What is... Burbot?
Burbot are eel-shaped fish typically found in most waters of Alaska, Canada and northern United States. They are not native to Utah. They are a relatively long-lived and slow-growing fish with several rows of inward facing teeth which make them tenacious predators of other fish. Anglers find Burbot have a mild, white flesh and are good to eat. Because of its sweet flavor, some consider Burbot to be a "poor man's lobster."

On the plus side, people say the burbot tastes good, so the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources hopes anglers will help fish it out of the Green River.

"It's really ugly, and what makes it problematic is that they eat anything," says Drew Cushing, Warm Water Sport Fish Coordinator for the UDWR.

Among anglers, Flaming Gorge is famous for lake trout, smallmouth bass and kokanee salmon. But, the burbot, a freshwater cod native to eastern Wyoming, already threatens those species. The voracious predator has the body of an eel and the head of a catfish.

"In Flaming Gorge and the Upper Green, it eats fish, it eats sport fish," says Cushing.

Burbot are voracious predators, capable of breeding in both rivers and reservoirs. As a result, they can have a serious impact on both native and sport fish populations. -DWR

Two weeks ago, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources made a disturbing find: a 21-inch burbot in the Green below Flaming Gorge dam, the first known capture in that Blue Ribbon fishery.

"It's one of the two most highly-touted brown trout fisheries in Utah, and in fact the United States," says Cushing.

The burbot worked their way down the Green River after someone illegally introduced the species upstream in Big Sandy Reservoir in Wyoming.

The UDWR wants to send a critical message to the public: Illegally introduced species of fish cannot and will not be managed in our waterways. They throw off the entire balance of the ecosystem.

"They're not native to Utah," Cushing says. "They're becoming an issue, and I think it's going to get worse."

DWR: 'no tolerance' fishing regulation
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has placed a 'no tolerance' fishing regulation on burbot in Utah:
  • There's no limit on the number of burbot an angler can catch.
  • Anglers may not release any burbot they catch.
  • All burbot must be killed immediately.

Biologists on Flaming Gorge Reservoir already see a rapid rise in burbot, and a corresponding decline in the kokanee salmon.

The DWR placed a "no tolerance," or "catch and kill," regulation on burbot: -There's no limit on the number you catch. -Anglers may not release burbot they catch. -All burbot must be killed immediately.

As for the taste, some call it "the poor man's lobster."

"Hopefully if you do catch one, you'll take it out," says Cushing.

The fish coordinator fears the burbot will eventually reach the Lower Green, the Colorado River and Lake Powell.

For more information, call the Utah Division of Wildlife Resource's Northeastern Region office at 435-781-9453.



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Jed Boal


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